THE QUEEN'S SECRET

Romantic fantasy turns into lovelorn politicking in this duology closer and follow-up to The Queen’s Assassin (2020).

Formerly feisty assassin-in-training Shadow is now Queen Lilac of Montrice, still secretly meeting her lover, Chief Assassin Caledon Holt, while managing to avoid her (nice, hound-loving) husband. But the evil Aphrasian monks are still a threat, and when Cal rides off with attractive apprentice Rhema, 19-year-old Lilac fears she’s lost him. Cal’s adventures take him back to Renovia and to the frightening Aphrasian stronghold of Baer Abbey; Lilac, previously accustomed to a similarly adventurous life, feels increasingly imprisoned in the Montrician castle. While the somewhat flimsy fantasy world offers some decent adventure and intrigue, most of the alternating narrative (Lilac’s in first-person present tense, Cal’s from close third-person) consists of the lovers’ being jealous and angry while circumstances hold them apart while Lilac works much harder to avoid consummating her year-old marriage than she does to govern. Sometimes-awkward writing, usually due to the limitations of present-tense narration, inconsistent characterization, and uneven pacing plague the text. Physical descriptors are few and far between, but the world is established as diverse in terms of race (for example, Lilac’s mother is dark-skinned) and sexuality (Lilac’s aunt is in a same-sex marriage).

Purely for completists. (map) (Fantasy. 12-16)

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-525-51594-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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Will both entertain and encourage reflection.

CINDERELLA IS DEAD

In Mersailles, “Cinderella” is more than just a fairy tale: It’s the basis for a harsh monarch’s throttlehold on his kingdom.

Sophia is turning 16, the age at which young women must attend King Manford’s annual ball, at which they are scrutinized by and married off to male attendees. Any young woman who has not been claimed after her third ball is destined to spend the rest of her days engaged in hard labor. But being chosen can be its own curse in a society where domestic violence is common. Sophia is a beautiful Black girl in love with dark-haired Erin, one of her best friends. While racial diversity is a natural part of this world, the same acceptance does not exist for those who defy rigid gender norms: Anything other than heterosexual desire is strictly forbidden, and while Sophia wishes to escape as a couple, Erin is too fearful. After fleeing the ball, Sophia stumbles across Cinderella’s mausoleum, hidden in the woods. There she meets rebellious Constance, an attractive young red-haired woman with a very personal motivation for sabotaging the monarchy. As the two grew closer—and sparks fly—they discover secrets that could end Manford’s cruel reign. This promising debut deals with themes around rebellion and empowerment as well as the toll that rejecting the status quo can take on relationships. The atmospheric setting is a particular strength, and the twists and turns will keep readers in suspense.

Will both entertain and encourage reflection. (Fantasy. 12-16)

Pub Date: July 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5476-0387-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: April 27, 2021

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For readers in need of a happy ending but not much else.

ALL THIS TIME

A modern-day fairy tale about two teenagers suffering from loss who find healing in one another.

Despite the ups and downs in their relationship, Kyle and Kimberly have always made up, and Kyle looks forward to attending college together after graduation. But on the night they should be celebrating, Kimberly confesses that she has committed to a different college and breaks up with him. As they argue, their car crashes, and Kyle later wakes up in the hospital and learns that Kimberly is dead. In his grief, Kyle blames himself for her death. He struggles to leave his bed most days, ignores calls from his and Kimberly’s best friend, Sam, and has visions of Kimberly and life before the accident. One day, while visiting Kimberly’s grave, he meets Marley, a girl who likes telling stories and is mourning the death of her twin sister. Predictably, their natural affinity for one another evolves into romance. It is unfortunate that Kyle essentially moves from one romantic relationship to another on his journey to better understanding himself and his co-dependence on those closest to him, although his gradual development into a more considerate person redeems him. The pacing remains even until the critical plot disruption, resulting in the rest of the story feeling disjointed and rushed. All characters are White.

For readers in need of a happy ending but not much else. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-6634-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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